Vine and fig planting

IMG_20120926_115626This is the spiel I wrote for the vine and fig tree planting at the 2012 Swan Island Peace Convergence. It was used again in 2013. Anyone is welcome to use this with appropriate acknowledgement (I am myself indebted to Harry Wykman and others for the idea and many of the connections herein).

Climate change, not terrorism, is the greatest threat to world security. Yet the world continues to spend trillions of dollars every year on weapons solely designed to take life and destroy property. We must begin to see that poverty, climate change and militarism cannot be tackled in isolation from one another, because they are inherently connected.

For that reason militarism, economics and politics cannot be understood apart from one another. We are among the world’s rich because of our history of colonialism, dispossession and ongoing exploitation of people and the earth, an exploitation we can only maintain by a military mindset of domination at all costs. We’re mindful of the Wathaurung as traditional custodians of this land, who no doubt had their own vines and fig trees.

In climate change we are reaping the harvest of our economic and military exploitation of the earth. By treating it as a resource to be expended rather than a garden to be tended we have denied our relationship of dependancy on the earth and sown seeds of toxicity that will be reaped in harvests of sickness and death for generations to come.

In the poverty of the developing world and even here in Australia we see the domination and exploitation of the world’s  poor for the sake of the world’s rich. With our militaries we keep the poor in their place even while rising sea levels and greater food scarcity hit the poor first and hardest.

In militarism we see the enforcing of the politics of domination and exploitation. We invade other countries for their resources. We invade them because our economic exploitation of the poor leads to resentment, and resentment to violence in the form of terrorism. We leave toxic legacies of depleted uranium, white phosphorus and other toxins for future generations to deal with.

But all is not lost, for this is God’s world, and we are the hands and feet of Christ. Hands that can reach out to make the connections across national boundaries, across ideologies, and hands that can work to cooperate with God, with the earth.

The vine and fig tree is an ancient image of peaceful self-sufficiency – where no one has too much and no one too little, where we tend the earth that supplies our needs, and where war has been abolished. What if we were to make flesh and blood and bone the transformation the Bible speaks of? What if we begin the transformation here and now, in this place, with these hands, and this soil?

The world needs such acts of prophetic imagination to see that such a world is not only possible, but is already here in a people gathered under the name of the God of all the nations.

And so we will begin this transformation of the Swan Island military base, in the name of the God of peace. We’re going to have an opportunity to share a thought, then we’re going to do some planting, and then we’ll share in the Eucharist together, of the broken body, and the crushed grapes.


Merton on hope

“The only thing that is to be regretted without qualification is for a man to adapt perfectly to totalitarian society. Then he is indeed beyond hope. Hence we should all be sick in some way. We should all feel near to despair in some sense because this semi-despair is the normal form taken by hope in a time like ours. Hope without any sensible or tangible evidence on which to rest. Hope in spite of the sickness that fills us. Hope married to a firm refusal to accept any palliatives or anything that cheats hope by pretending to relieve apparent despair.”

-Thomas Merton, Letter to Czeslaw Milosz, September 12 1959 (emphasis mine).

Holy Innocents 2013 reportback

20131228_110032It’s tempting at Christmas to focus on love, peace, joy and hope as abstract sentimentalities – particularly for those of us who live relatively privileged lives. Yet we dare not forget the context of Jesus’ birth – the violence of an oppressive regime which imposed its own order at all costs, even the lives of innocents. The Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th reminds us that in the midst of Christmas joy the lives of innocents are still at risk from the Powers – through our war-making, our treatment of asylum seekers, and the sweatshops in which our gifts are often made.

This was the fifth year of commemorating Holy Innocents, and it has become a fixture on the calendar. Though many are away on holidays at this time, there is always enough to hold it together.

We began on the grass at Victoria Barracks, where we read the story from the book of Matthew, followed by a minute’s silence. Then Erika read this prayer from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for Privileged People:

Christmas…the Very Next Day

Had we the chance, we would have rushed to Bethlehem
to see this thing that had come to pass.

Had we been a day later,
we would have found the manger empty
and the family departed.

We would have learned that they fled to Egypt,
warned that the baby was endangered,
sought by the establishment of the day
that understood how his very life
threatened the way things are.

We would have paused at the empty stall
and pondered how this baby
from the very beginning was under threat.

The powers understood that his grace threatened all our coercions;
they understood that his truth challenged all our lies;
they understood that his power to heal nullified our many pathologies;
they understood that his power to forgive vetoed the power of guilt
and the drama of debt among us.

From day one they pursued him,
and schemed and conspired
until finally…on a grey Friday…
they got him!

No wonder the family fled, in order to give him time
for his life.

We could still pause at the empty barn –
and ponder that all our babies are born under threat, all the
vulnerable who stand at risk before predators,
our babies who face the slow erosion of consumerism,
our babies who face the reach of sexual exploitation,
our babies who face the call to war,
placed as we say, “in harm’s way,”
our babies, elsewhere in the world,
who know of cold steel against soft arms
and distended bellies from lack of food;
our babies everywhere who are caught in the fearful display of ruthless adult power.

We ponder how peculiar this baby at Bethlehem is,
summoned to save the world,
and yet
we know, how like every child, this one also was at risk.

The manger is empty a day later…
the father warned in a dream.
Our world is so at risk, and yet we seek after and wait for
this child named “Emmanuel.”
Come be with us, you who are called “God with us.”

Then we had the opportunity to share stories of contemporary innocents who have been killed as part of our society’s quest for domination and security. Greg shared a story of child victims of drone warfare. I shared a story of Zukoom (9) and Hashim (8), killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul in opposition to the Bilateral Security Agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Others shared about Gaza, asylum seekers, and West Papuan Independence activists. Each name or group was written on a white cross, a bell rung, and a reverent silence observed.

I then shared this reflection:

We know that hundreds of children have been killed in drone strikes. The Australian government continues to lock up children and adults alike in inhumane conditions simply for fleeing persecution by boat.

We must recognise, confess, and begin to undo our complicity. It is our power and privilege that is maintained by the standing armies we have – in other words, by force – and we do not resist the use of force in our names as much as we could because we are afraid; afraid, amongst other things, to lose our power and privilege, within our own society and in the rest of the world.

To our fears, the angels have one thing to say: Do not be afraid. To Zechariah, as he learns that he will soon father a child who will become John the Baptist, forerunner of the Messiah, the angels say: do not be afraid. To Mary, as she learns that she will carry God in human form: do not be afraid. To the shepherds, as they learn that the Saviour of the world has been born: do not be afraid. To those Herods, ancient and modern, who wage war out of fear, the angels say: do not be afraid. And to those of us who resist, the same message: do not be afraid.

This is the original ‘war on terror’ – not a violent military bent on destroying their enemies but a nonviolent heavenly army announcing peace on earth and goodwill to all. The bright light in the sky over Palestine shining with the glory of God, not the white phosphorus of today’s wars raining down on the terrified people below.

As we reflect on the absurd mismatch of the Christ child in a manger pitted against the might of an empire, we remember that it does not take great strength of arms to prevail over the culture of death, merely great vulnerability. And that is something that you and I possess.

Then we made our way up St Kilda Road to Fed Square, singing spirituals. There police informed me that the Shrine guards would not allow us to proceed onto its grounds – that under the Shrine Act we would be risking arrest if we proceeded, and that they would 20131228_115445confiscate our banners. The Shrine Act apparently dictates that a) only ceremonies commemorating servicepeople are authorised to take place on Shrine grounds, and such events must be granted advanced permission and b) banners were banned from the Shrine grounds except for such authorised events. We had a decision to make.

After a brief pow-wow in the shade, we decided together to proceed to the Shrine, with the intention of holding our closing circle, and if turned away we would lay the wreath there. This meant we would not avoid the confrontation, and would force them to turn us away, but we would not risk arrest. With a range of experience levels in the group, this seemed like an excellent compromise.

We were met at the entrance to the Shrine by three police cars, two Shrine guards in full dress uniform, and six or seven police. They explained the rules, and told us we could go no further.

It seemed somehow fitting to be turned away – remembering the story of the Christ-child, exiled from his own society, forced to flee from the army of his own people. And here the powers of our society dictate that only those who perpetrate war are to be remembered and honoured, and all innocent victims will be shunned, forgotten, ignored, acceptable collateral damage. This despite the fact that 90% of war’s casualties these days are civilians, caught up largely in a struggle for power that has nothing to do with them, and the benefits of which they will not experience. Where is the shrine to civilian victims? Why is no sacred ground is dedicated to their remembrance? I think we all know the answer.

So the wreath was laid, and the police and guards bore witness to our prayers and lamentations. As long as this event remains in the church year, it will ensure the victims of warfare, and of oppressive political rule, are remembered. In the runup to Anzac commemorations in 2015, when the sacrifice of society’s sons in war will be glorified, it is all the more important that we remember the forgotten victims.

20131228_121741Thanks to Sam, Jade and Erika for sharing the facilitation of this year’s gathering, and a HUGE thanks to Graeme for his amazing gift of visually spectacular banners. And thanks to all who participated.

Holy Innocents Peace Procession 2012 reportback


Each December 28th for the past four years, a small group of us have held an event to mark the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the day when the church remembers the babies killed by Herod in his quest to maintain his own power, and those innocents killed by contemporary Herods in their quest for power and security.

One of the significant parts of the leadup for me was an email exchange with my friend Graeme Dunstan of, a Buddhist and a long time peace activist. It was largely a theological discussion of the similarities and differences between Christianity and Buddhism, particularly with regard to the Christmas story. This is the kind of deeper connection I was hoping to make post-Facebook. So while my Facebook absence meant more limited event advertising, it also meant deeper connection. So be it.


Graeme made an amazing banner, which we will be able to use for many years to come. I’m deeply grateful for his work and creativity.

Graeme has already done a great reportback on the event here. So rather than concentrating on recounting the event itself, I’ll concentrate on my reflections from it.

One, this event is a deeply significant one, now established as a permanent fixture on our calendar. This was our fourth Holy Innocents event in a row, and has become as much a part of Christmas as the turkey and plum pudding. And rightly so. As one of the processionists shared in the debriefing time afterwards, this is far more authentically Christmas than anything going on in the frenzy of the Bourke St mall.

20121228_105943Two, having been permanently established it is in some ways in danger of becoming rote. While we changed some things from previous years, others I think could have been improved. I’ve tried to keep it a reasonably simple, accessible, DIY event, being post-Christmas Day and in a season people are busy. But perhaps with some creativity we can make more of a public splash.

Part of the tension of this particular event is the balance between it being a form of public action and a discipleship formation event. I see part of my role as being an evangelist (some have said ‘prophet’, I prefer evangelist) to the church, encouraging us to see our calling as bringing the good news of Jesus and his gospel of peace to bear on all societal problems, rather than simply a matter of private morality. And in particular to see our story, the great narrative of Scripture (as played out in the church year), as our primary resource20121228_104113 for making that practical. This means deepening our commitment to and practice of our story, rather than throwing out the parts we don’t like (as the left often does), or abstracting and reducing it to the merely personal (as the right so often does). So the two dimensions of this – namely, educational and inspirational for us AND the bearing public witness for them – need to both be present. I think I’ve tended to err on the side of the former, perhaps at the expense of the latter.

We did change the route this year – walking from Victoria Barracks to Defence Plaza was just too long a distance, especially with children, so we instead went Vic Barracks to Fed Square and back to the Shrine. One thing I missed with the change of route was 20121228_110120processing through Bourke St Mall. The small interruption to “business as usual”, the irruption of reality into the reverie of bargain-hunting, has been a significant feature of previous years, and I missed it.

Having said that, finishing at the Shrine of Remembrance I think was deeply significant. As I noted at the end, these days 90% of casualties of war are civilians. Where are the Shrines of Remembrance for them? Where are the Shrines for the refugees, for the terrorised and the maimed? For at least a time, we were that Shrine. That was beautiful and significant.

As always, the presence of children at these events is not just a bonus, but essential to its spirit. I’m so grateful for our children and all they teach us, which makes the Holy Innocents remembrance all the more devastating, knowing what other children and parents are going through.

In our closing, many people referenced the small size of our gathering. I recalled the story of Jesus, who gathered just 12 people, and ended up alone. Hence Daniel Berrigan’s dictum, “A good peace movement starts out small and gets smaller.” Because keeping awake in a time of permanent war is hard – the “narrow path” as Jesus describes it. We are in exile – strangers in a strange land – and always there is a small remnant who carry the tradition forward, finding new expressions and ways of being faithful.

I finish with an excerpt of my rant at Victoria Barracks – really the nub of this event for me. A reflection partly birthed in the interfaith discussion between a Buddhist and a Christian. Thanks be to God.

“To our fears, the angels have one thing to say: Do not be afraid. To Zechariah, as he learns that he will soon father a child who will become John the Baptist, forerunner of the Messiah, the angels say: do not be afraid. To Mary, as she learns that she will carry God in human form: do not be afraid. To the shepherds, as they learn that the Saviour of the world has been born: do not be afraid. To those Herods, ancient and modern, who wage war out of fear, the angels say: do not be afraid. And to those of us who resist, the same message: do not be afraid.

This is the original war on terror – not a violent military bent on destroying their enemies but a nonviolent heavenly army announcing peace on earth and goodwill to all. The bright light in the sky over Palestine shining with the glory of God, not the white phosphorus of today’s wars raining down on the terrified people below.

As we reflect on the absurd mismatch of the Christ child in a manger pitted against the might of an empire, we remember that it does not take great strength of arms to prevail over the culture of death, merely great vulnerability. And that is something that you and I possess.”


Holy Innocents Peace Procession 2012

187.jpgIn the days after Christmas, while most people are recovering from the indulgence of Christmas Day or deeply immersed in the liturgy of the Boxing Day Test, the Church calendar commemorates the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod in a bid to maintain his power and privilege. This is a part of the Christmas story which gets little attention in churches, yet it forms a major part of the biblical birth narrative. It is a day when we remember children and other innocent people killed by today’s Herods, who consider such innocents to be acceptable collateral damage in their quest for power and security. Children are still the most deeply affected by wars around the globe – 65% of Afghans are under the age of 18. 90% of those killed in wars are civilians.

Join us on Friday December 28th for a peace procession from Victoria Barracks in Melbourne to Federation Square, and returning near the Shrine of Remembrance. We will begin at 10am with prayers at Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road, and process to Federation Square and then back to the Shrine for further prayer and reflection together. We will be finished around 11:30am.So make some space in your post-Christmas calendar to remember the victims of global warmaking, and to encourage one another to acts of resistance.

Please pass this invitation on to anyone who might be interested. (Facebook event here)

Reports from previous Holy Innocents processions:

(I forgot to write a report on 2011’s event :))

What you can do

I’m often asked after workshops or talks on nonviolence or war, “So…what can we do?” I usually don’t have a very good answer, so this is my attempt to get something down that might be useful. Obviously these lists always date quickly as events come and go, but here goes:

The first and best thing you can do it take the kind of time required to sit in the love and grace of God. If you start from any other motivation, you’re going to struggle to sustain it, and it will either emerge as self-righteousness or legalism. That takes some discipline for those of us who don’t sit still very often (or at least not without staring at a screen). As you sit and bask in this, something is likely to emerge that you can follow up.

If I could add anything to the encouragement to pray, it would be these two: to think about where you are when you pray, and to think about how the narrative of Scripture shapes your prayer. The old saying, “where you sit determines what you see” is apt here. If we’re only ever exposed to situations of comfort and convenience, it’s hard to hear the invitation of the God of the oppressed.

And then I’d suggest trying stuff. If you hear about an action, any action (do an online petition, write a letter to a politician, attend a vigil, whatever creative idea you might have), go along, participate, and see what it’s like. Act, then reflect. What felt true, good, empowering? Why? What felt uncomfortable, inauthentic? Why? Gandhi used to call nonviolence “experiments with truth” – a term I find helpful, because it doesn’t mean every action has to be a “success” but it does mean you have to learn from it.

Most of all, do it with others. Church cell groups are perfect “affinity” groups, because you likely share similar worldviews and interests, and trust each other. Talk together about what you could do, what you’re interested in, passionate about, then go try stuff, experiment. Do things locally if that makes it easier.

Here are some suggestions for getting involved with specifically antiwar actions:

I’m thinking of running some Bible studies in the leadup to the Swan Island Peace Convergence. If you’d like to be kept in the loop about that let me know.

One thing you can do fairly easily is hook up with a Global Day of Listening, on the 21st of each month (often the 22nd in Australia). This is a simple skype call where you talk to people in wartorn countries, particularly Afghanistan. All the instructions are on the website, and all you need is an hour or so and a skype connection. It just personalises the whole situation rather than merely being abstract issues, and you can hear what Afghans are thinking and feeling rather than just getting media bias.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) are also organising a 2 million friends for peace campaign for December 10th this year. Watch this space for more detail, but basically it will involve lighting candles for a ceasefire in Afghanistan. 2 million is the approximate number of people who have been killed in wars in Afghanistan in the last 35-40 years.

In Melbourne we have monthly vigils against the war, to maintain a visible antiwar presence in our city, and to keep us active (“The only way to be hopeful is to do hopeful things” – Dan Berrigan). The next one is August 7th from 4:30-6:30pm, outside Flinders St Station. A vigil is about watching and staying awake – Jesus tells his disciples to “keep vigil” on the night he was arrested. In a society that is sleeping or distracted through permanent war, staying awake and watching becomes particularly important. People also often worry about knowing what to say if people ask them why they’re vigilling. There are three things to this: one, coming along gives you an incentive to do the research necessary to be able to articulate why you’re there. And two, you don’t have to have answers for every possible question before trying something or none of us would ever try anything! And three, you can take it as an opportunity to learn from people who have been doing it for a month, a year or a decade longer than you.

Obviously anyone would be welcome to come along to the Swan Island Peace Convergence, September 23-27, for the whole or part of the time. It’s an opportunity even just to hang out and see what happens. We’ll have a day and a half of nonviolence training before having a day of one mass action together, and then a day of affinity (small, self-contained) group actions. Obviously no one is under any pressure to do anything they don’t want to do. There will be a range of actions, and the likelihood is (I hope, otherwise it’s a logistical nightmare) that more than half of the people involved will only do actions that don’t risk arrest. We’re always clear about what will constitute an action which risks arrest, so no one needs to worry about being arrested unexpectedly. 🙂

So that’s a start. If you have other ideas please add them in to the comments section below.

Merton on nonviolence

Wow, this just blew me away.

“Nonviolence must avoid the ambiguity of an unclear and confusing protest that hardens the warmakers in their self-righteous blindness. This means in fact that in this case above all nonviolence must avoid a facile and fanatical self-righteousness, and refrain from being satisfied with dramatic and self-justifying gestures.

Perhaps the most insidious temptation to be avoided is one which is characteristic of the power structure itself: this fetishism of immediate visible results. Modern society understands “possibilities” and “results” in terms of a superficial and quantitative idea of efficacy. One of the missions of Christian nonviolence is to restore a different standard of practical judgement in social conflicts. This means that the Christian humility of nonviolent action must establish itself in the minds of modern people not only as conceivable and possible, but as a desirable alternative to what they now consider the only realistic possibility: namely, political technique backed by force. Here the human dignity of nonviolence must manifest itself clearly in terms of a freedom and a nobility which are able to resist political manipulation and brute force and show them up as arbitrary, barbarous and irrational. This will not be easy. The temptation to get publicity and quick results by spectacular tricks or by forms of protest that are merely odd or provocative but whose human meaning is not clear may defeat this purpose.”

–Thomas Merton, from Passion for Peace.

Requesting donations for Swan Island Peace Convergence II

Last July the first Swan Island Peace Convergence was held in Queenscliff to disrupt a local contribution to the war in Afghanistan. Over four days of blockades a group of about 50 people were able to disrupt the workings of this secretive military facility. Recent revelations of a secretive SAS squadron operating out of Swan Island have made this task all the more important.

So this year, on September 23-27 2012, we’ll be holding the second Swan Island Peace Convergence. Over four days of nonviolence training, cake stalls, and diverse nonviolent direct actions we will do what we can to disrupt our current warmaking and promote a robust culture of peace.

We’ve booked the Salt House, group accommodation which sleeps 38, and which is situated just 100m from the entrance to the military base.

I know that many of you may or may not be in a position to take part but would like to support the SIPC in some way. Right now we’re asking for donations to defray the cost of accommodation and food for people who may wish to participate. We don’t want cost to be a barrier to participation for people but can’t fund the whole thing ourselves! So if you’d like to support us in this way, you can either pledge an amount or transfer the money directly to:

Acc name : Swan Island Peace Convergence
BSB: 633 000
Acc: 145734596

We’re currently putting together a budget so we know how much to charge people in order to cover costs. If you could let us know how much you’d like to pledge, or if you’d prefer to support anonymously, transfer the money within the next fortnight it will enable us to make this more affordable for people. Even if it’s just $5 or $10 or whatever, every little bit helps. And please pass this on to anyone you know who might be able to help out.

Many thanks for all you’re doing for peace and justice!

The Sheep and the Goats

When I rang my young Afghan friend last week on his mobile phone, he was bringing his sheep and goats in from the fields, so when the passage about the final judgement, described as “the sheep and the goats” (Matthew 25:31-46) came up in the lectionary on Sunday I couldn’t help reflecting on Afghanistan. Out of my reflections came this Afghan paraphrase. I hope it brings this passage alive for our context, and moves us to action.

“I was hungry and you drove past my refugee camp with food for your troops. I was thirsty and you told me you the situation was too insecure to fix the water supply. I was a stranger and you refused to learn my language, I was naked and you walked past in your battle armour. I was sick with preventable diseases and you told me your priority was to train people to kill so I would be safe. I was in prison, held indefinitely without charge and no one could visit me because no one knew where I was or even whether I was alive. Inasmuch as we do this to Afghans, we do it to Christ.”